NDN Blog

America appears out of touch and weak to the world

From the NYTimes this morning:

...“I am baffled by what I saw,” said Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. “This was an expression of the Americans in deep trouble, but Bush’s approach to dealing with the Iraqi problem also bore the signs of someone out of touch with what is going on.”

“I did not see a coherent strategy that really deals with the situation,” Mr. Said said. “I did not see Bush realizing how bad it is.”

The meeting showed that Bush cared about the game, but he did not know how to make the right moves,” he said. “There were no tangible results.” And results, he said, were what Arab leaders were looking for....

So Bush goes all the way to Jordan and meets with Maliki for two hours? The whole thing was such a charade.  In the run up to the Summit, he made the argument that the Sunni-Shiite struggle in Iraq was being driven by Al-Qaeda, something that is patently false.  The ISG report appears to be a big punt, and fails to confront the emerging political reality of the Middle East.  We now appear to have two Secretaries of State, clearly in conflict with one another.  The Saudis have become so concerned about our mismanagement of Iraq that they had an op-ed placed in the Washington Post making it clear they would go to war in Iraq to protect the Sunni Arab population.  

All in all, the governing party's inability to understand or manage this growing international crisis is sending a signal to the world that America has become a weakened and stumbling power.  My own sense is that the way we can show strength to the world is to ask for help.  To admit that we are no longer capable of managing what is now an international problem, and invite the UN, NATO, the EU or others to help create a regional peace process that will put everything on the table. 

Though many may be happy that America will be redeploying our troops in the near future, without a change in the political arrangements inside Iraq and the Middle East we will be essentially staying the course, a course that is now clearly headed towards a regional conflict driven a great deal by Iran's hegemonic ambitions and long simmering Sunni-Shiite tensions. 

Biden on the ISG

I'm still not sure about Senator Joe Biden's "federalism" plan for Iraq, but he is very correct that we need to be talking about political and diplomatic paths forward for the region:

"“I look forward to the release of the Iraq Study Group's report on December 6th and I will reserve full judgment until I see it. But if today’s news reports are correct, I’m concerned the Iraq Study Group may miss the most important point: the need for a strategy to build a sustainable political settlement in Iraq. Bringing the neighbors in and starting to get our troops out are necessary, but not sufficient. We need to give each of Iraq’s major groups a way to pursue their interests peacefully. It would be a fatal mistake to believe we can do that solely by building up a strong central government. That policy has been tried and it has failed because there is no trust within the government, no trust of the government by the people and no capacity on the part of the government to deliver benefits to Iraqis.

"The best way to get a sustainable political settlement is through federalism: maintaining a unified Iraq, but decentralizing the country and giving its groups breathing room in their own regions. A central government would still be responsible for the distribution of oil and border security. We would get Sunni buy-in by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of the oil revenues and we’d bring the neighbors in to support the political settlement. If we do all these things, we can withdraw most of our troops from Iraq by the end of 2007, with a residual force to focus on counter-terrorism. And we can achieve the two objectives most Americans share: to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind.”

Biden's idea on a "Contact Group" to help establish a regional diplomatic dialogue is something worth giving serious consideration to.  You can read more about it in a speech he gave in the fall of 2005 to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The Politics of Exurbia

In Monday's USA Today, reporter Jill Lawrence wrote a major story on how "Democratic gains in suburbs spell trouble for GOP".  The story, based largely on a report by geographers Robert Lang and Thomas Sanchez of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute, is well worth reading, as is the detailed Lang-Sanchez study.  Let me flag a couple of paragraphs of the Lawrence story that deal with exurbia in particular:

"Republicans this year continued to win in small cities up to 50,000, as well as fast-growing exurban and rural areas. Lang called the exurbs and "emerging suburbs" volatile, noting Democrats had been losing ground there but cut GOP victory margins in half this year....

Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin said Republican appeal is waning in the inner suburbs, due in part to socially conservative positions, while Democrats are getting better at reaching suburban voters. They have "doubled, tripled and quadrupled" their efforts to be competitive in exurbs and emerging suburbs, Garin said, since the "huge shock" of losing 97 of the country's 100 fastest-growing counties in 2004."

That is one of the big stories of this election: big Democratic gains in exurbia, which is composed of the borderline rural true exurbs (think Fauquier and Stafford counties in northern Virginia) and the borderline suburban and much more densely populated emerging suburbs (think Loudoun and Prince William counties in northern Virginia).

The Democrats' ability to make progress in these very important emerging suburbs, in particular--the fastest growing part of America--was flagged and analyzed in detail before the election in my New Politics Institute report, The Next Frontier: A New Study of Exurbia.  As the Lang-Sanchez report notes, Democrats grabbed 45 percent of the House vote in America's emerging suburbs this year, up from a mere 39 percent in 2002.  My NPI study gives you the "backstory" on how and why this shift happened.

This increased competitiveness in emerging suburbs, combined with Democratic dominance of the inner and mature suburbs, augurs very well for Democratic and progressive prospects in 2008 and beyond.  As I put it in my study with John Halpin, The Politics of Definition, the following is now a very real possibility, given current demographic and political trends:

"In spatial terms, progressive domination would likely spread outwards from the city and inner suburbs to include the mature suburbs and make emerging suburbs a real competitive battleground. The reliable conservative vote would be reduced to the solid red states and America’s rural areas and most far-flung exurbs."

That is what we now see happening.  Reversing Mao's dictum, progressives are surrounding the countryside from the cities.  And the emerging suburbs are now the frontline of that struggle, a struggle progressives are currently winning.

Blumenthal on Generation Dem

Sidney Blumenthal's new essay in Salon is a must read.

The Iraq Study Group's recommendations leak out

So, 9 months of meetings and what are the bold recommendations from the ISG about our great struggle in Iraq?  Regional talks and a phased pullout.  That's it.  Something as obvious as the sky is blue.  And, of course, even as innocuous as the recommendations are, Bush immediately tossed cold water on them. 

As I've been writing these last few weeks, events in the Middle East seems to have made the framework of this whole debate seem less relevant.  From the Times story today a telling quote: “I think we’ve played a constructive role,” one person involved in the committee’s deliberations said, “but from the beginning, we’ve worried that this entire agenda could be swept away by events.”

Unless the final report due out next week offers some guidance on how to deal with Iran's regional ambitions, rising regional Sunni-Shiite tensions, the viability of a Shiite-led Arab state in the heart of the Middle East, what to do about the growing Al-Qaeda presence in Western Iraq, the rise of Hezbollah and the growing instability of Lebanon, how this all impacts Israel and Palestine, and whether it is possible, or advisable, for the UN or other international body to help facilitate a regional peace process I worry that these 9 months of the ISG will be yet another missed opportunity of the Bush era. 

But perhaps that's all we can really expect now, and for the next two years. 2006 brought a major era of American politics, one we call the era of conservative ascendency, to a dramatic close.  The conservative movement has been intellectually discredited, the Republicans have suffered their greatest political defeat in two generations and Bush has been personally repudiated by the American people.  There is no blueprint for their government any more, no sign posts, no easy path forward. We should expect the Administration and the Republican Congress, still shellshocked by their defeat, to remain in a defensive crouch while their Presidentials and thinktanks work to reinvent their politics.  In essence we have to realize as a nation that our government, and its party, have no idea what to do about the major problems facing the nation today.

Of course this gives progressives an extraordinary opportunity over the next two years to imagine, define and fight for a new agenda that helps our great country tackle the great challenges of our day. 

TNR's "Iraq: What's Next? " series

The New Republic's new "Iraq: What's Next? series is worth checking out.  You can find it at http://www.tnr.com/

And what's up with the  Bush-Maliki dinner getting cancelled tonight? Have the wheels really come off the Bushies to that degree?

If you haven't read the Hadley memo on Iraq, you can find it here

And for what amounted to a Saudi threat to turn the Sunni-Shiite struggle in Iraq into a regional war if America leaves, read this remarkable Washington Post op-ed from this morning by a Saudi advisor. 

Good News on the Minimum Wage

Among other things, hopes increased today for raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. Senate Minority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell look prepared to work with Democrats on a number of things. From The Washington Post:

Senate Minority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell (Ky.) described as "easy stuff" much of the Democrats' opening agenda, including a proposal to boost the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour and a congressional ethics package that would ban gifts, meals and travel from lobbyists, as well as impose new controls on the budget deficit. These issues, however, have not proved to be easy before.

McConnell said he is urging bolder action. He challenged House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to push for a long-term solution to financing the Social Security system and for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.

It's nice to see that Republicans will be willing to work with us, especially in the Senate where the majority is slimmer. But isn't it a bit ironic that McConnel is urging Dems to act in areas where the 109th fell short? Time to pick up the slack...

Income Figures: Not Good

The post election debate about the economy - recently couched as the Rubinites against the EPI-ites - rumbles on. But the figures behind it look no rosier than they did before November. An article in yesterday's Times showed latest figures for average incomes still below when the President took office. (Note these are mean, not median figures. This makes the figures less impressive, given that rises at the top of the income scale should drag the average up.)

Reported income totaled $7.044 trillion in 2004, the latest year for which data is available, down from more than $7.143 trillion in 2000, new Internal Revenue Service data shows. Total reported income, in 2004 dollars, fell 1.4 percent, but because the population grew during that period average real incomes declined more than twice as much, falling $1,641, or 3 percent, to $53,974. Since 2004, the Census Department has found, the income of the typical American household has grown along with the rise in average incomes but at a slow pace that, until recent months, had barely kept ahead of inflation.


The Looming Scrum for $67 Billion in Advertising Dollars

This month’s Wired magazine has a cover story on YouTube that puts Google’s $1.65 billion buy more in a strategic context. The subhead of the story cuts to the chase: “TV advertising is broken, putting $67 billion up for grabs. Which explains why Google spent a billion and change on an online video startup.”

On the day they announcement came out I did a blog post here that had a similar quick hit that this purchase was more about putting the pieces in place for inventing the TV of the 21st century. Google is close to figuring out the advertising model that works in this new Internetized environment. And YouTube is onto something about how motion media might work in this space. Connect successful advertising and successful content and you might have a real formula that might work for a long run. By no means this is a done deal, but it does present some interesting possibilities.

All those developments come at a time when the traditional 30-second ad model for TV is breaking down with, among other things, the spread of digital video recorders like Tivo. In other words, the $67 billion dollars that currently is parked there will soon be looking for a new home….

Peter Leyden

NPI Event Tuesday - The Next Wave of Tools for Progressive Politics

Peter Leyden, the Director of our New Politics Institute, just sent this out. This is going to be a great event, so come on out!


The technology and media worlds are in the midst of a transformation that is profoundly affecting politics. In the next few years we can expect to see the accelerating demise of the 30-second television commercial as the main form of political communication. Already, the 2006 election was marked by a spirit of experimentation in new tools and new media.

Understanding the way forward in this new environment is critical to all the work we do as progressives. That is why I hope you'll be able to join the New Politics Institute for a lunch next Tuesday, December 5th, as we gather leading experts and practitioners of these new tools to evaluate what worked best this fall and what we can expect to make an even greater impact in the future. Panelists will include:

  • Julie Bergman Sender on Viral Video in the post YouTube world
  • Tim Chambers on Mobile Media
  • Will Robinson on the Evolution of Television through Cable, Satellite and TiVo
  • Laura Quinn on Data Driven Politics

The event will be held in Washington, DC on Tuesday, December 5th from noon to 2:00pm at the Phoenix Park Hotel at 520 North Capitol Street, NW.
This event is one of a series presented by the New Politics Institute, a think tank helping progressives master today’s transformation of politics due to rapid changes in technology, media and the demographic makeup of America. NPI is building a working network of top technology, media, and demographic professionals who want to help move best practices and innovations into progressive politics. Read our developing body of reports and view exclusive video content at: www.newpolitics.net For more information on the event contact Tracy Leaman at 202-842-7213 or tleaman@ndn.org Feel free to spread this announcement around. The more progressives who understand the powerful new tools and new media we now have at our disposal, the better.

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